An Outlook

[NOTE: For this issue I offer an assortment of holiday trivia and fact for you to share with friends at whatever gathering you might be attending.]

• Franklin Pierce was the first United States President to decorate an official White House Christmas Tree.

• For every real Christmas tree harvested, two to three seedlings are planted in its place.

• During the Christmas buying season, the Visa brand credit card alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the United States.

• In 1836, Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday. In 1907, Oklahoma became the last U.S. state to declare Christmas a legal holiday.

• A popular game at Christmas in medieval times was called “Hot Cockles.” This peculiar game involved players taking turns striking the blindfolded player, who had to guess the name of the person delivering each blow. “Hot cockles” remained a Christmas pastime until the Victorian era.

• “Wassail” comes from the Old Norse ves heill – meaning, “to be of good health.” This evolved into the tradition of visiting neighbors on Christmas Eve and drinking to their health.

• The abbreviation of Xmas for Christmas is not disrespectful, as many believe. The first letter of the word Christ in Greek is chi, which is identical to our “X.” Xmas was originally an ecclesiastical abbreviation that was used in tables and charts.

• The Canadian province of Nova Scotia leads the world in exporting lobster, wild blueberries, and Christmas trees.

• The day after Christmas, December 26, is known as Boxing Day. It is also the holy day called The Feast of St. Stephen. While some believe the feast was named for St. Stephen, a 9th century Swedish missionary and the patron saint of horses neither Boxing Day nor St. Stephen have anything to do with Sweden or with horses. The Stephen for whom the day is named is the one in the Bible (Acts 6-8) who was the first Christian to be martyred for his faith.

• The modern Christmas custom of displaying a wreath on the front door of one’s house is borrowed from ancient Rome’s New Year’s celebrations. Romans wished each other “good health” by exchanging branches of evergreens. They called these gifts strenae after Strenia, the goddess of health. It became the custom to bend these branches into a ring and display them on doorways.

• The world’s first singing commercial aired on the radio on Christmas Eve in 1926 for Wheaties cereal. The four male singers, eventually known as the Wheaties Quartet, sang the jingle. The Wheaties Quartet, comprised of an undertaker, a bailiff, a printer, and a businessman, performed the song for the next six years, at $6 per singer per week. The commercials were a resounding success.

• To make the holidays a little happier for needy children Toys for Tots began in 1947.

• Frustrated at the lack of interest in his new toy invention, Charles Pajeau hired several midgets, dressed them in elf costumes, and had them play with “Tinker Toys” in a display window at a Chicago department store during the Christmas season in 1914. This publicity stunt made the construction toy an instant hit. A year later, over a million sets of Tinker Toys had been sold.

• Child singer Jimmy Boyd was 12 years and 11 months old when he sang the Christmas favorite, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” The song hit the top of the pop charts.

• Candy canes began as straight white sticks of sugar candy used to decorate Christmas trees. A choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral decided have the ends bent to depict a shepherd’s crook and he would pass them out to the children to keep them quiet during the services. It wasn’t until the 20th century that candy canes acquired their red stripes.

• California, Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are the top Christmas tree producing states.

• At lavish Christmas feasts in the Middle Ages, swans and peacocks were sometimes served “endored.” This meant the flesh was painted with saffron dissolved in melted butter. In addition to their painted flesh, endored birds were served wrapped in their own skin and feathers, which had been removed and set aside prior to roasting.

• An average household in America will mail out 28 Christmas cards each year. Likewise, the average American household will receive 28 Christmas cards.

• As early as 1822, the postmaster in Washington, D.C. was worried by the amount of extra mail at Christmas time. His preferred solution to the problem was to limit by law the number of cards a person could send. Even though commercial cards were not available at that time, people were already sending so many homemade cards that 16 extra postmen had to be hired by the city.

• American billionaire Ross Perot tried to airlift 28 tons of medicine and Christmas gifts to American POW’s in North Vietnam in 1969.

• Although many believe the Friday after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year, they are wrong. “Black Friday,” as the media is fond of calling the day after Thanksgiving can be anywhere from the fifth to 10th busiest shopping day, depending on the year. The Friday and Saturday before Christmas are invariably the two busiest shopping days of the year.

• A “Christmas Club,” the savings account in which a person deposits a fixed amount of money regularly to be used at Christmas for shopping, came about around 1905.

• Animal Crackers are not really crackers, but cookies that were imported to the United States from England in the late 1800s. Barnum’s circus-like boxes were designed with a string handle so that they could be hung on a Christmas tree.

• Before settling on the name of Tiny Tim for his character in “A Christmas Carol,” three other alliterative names were considered by Charles Dickens. They were Little Larry, Puny Pete, and Small Sam.

• Charles Dickens’ initial choice for Scrooge’s statement “Bah Humbug” was “Bah Christmas.”